44. Singletrack Classic ’17

The 2017 Singletrack Classic:  I AM TEAM COLIN.

Last Saturday wasn’t just my fourth time doing the Singletrack Classic, it was my first time doing the FULL DISTANCE (44k), and it was my fourth time TANKING the Singletrack Classic.

team-colin-single-track-classic.jpgI’ve never had good luck at the race. Never.  But, year after year, I bring my game face and the hope “this will be my year…”.  I figure somehow it’ll turn around.

Once again, for the fourth time in a row, nope.

It’s not my fault, and it’s no fault of race or organizer.  It’s not the fault of the trails, or my bike, or Hardwood Hills, but the Singletrack Classic is my race nemesis.  My experiences in prior years were:

  • “Aw c’mon, it can’t be broken!”
  • “Aw, dang it”
  • “Meh”
  • “AW, DOUBLE DANG IT!!!”.

My first year racing the Singletrack Challenge (it wasn’t the Classic at that time) was 2013. Actually, it wasn’t.  I broke my arm three days before the race, while I was taking a last training ride.

“Aw c’mon, it can’t be broken!  Hopefully I’ll get to do it next year” I thought.

So, my first year actually racing the Singletrack Challenge (still wasn’t the Classic) was in 2014.  I didn’t have a broken arm, but my buddy was peeing when the race started, and we missed the start by a few minutes. Then, I spent the first 15 minutes sprinting to catch the pack, which burned ALL of my matches.

“Aw, dang it!  Maybe next year” I thought.

The second year, 2015,  was a RE-race.  I wanted to experience the full–and punctual–joy of 22k of secret and reverse trails.  However, it was not to be.  My notes in 2015 say, I never really felt like I hit a sweet groove.  I tried and tried, but I never actually felt like I was racing it.

“Meh.  Maybe next year” I thought.

The third year, 2016, was a RE-RE-race.  I was finally going to get it right.  However, I got to Hardwood Hills late, only to discover that my free hub was thrashed, which meant I spent the race pedalling gently because I was afraid cranking it would strip the hub and send me over the bars.  Also, I went to the race in an almost catatonic state because I had a really brutal work schedule in the weeks leading up to the race.   So much for a RE-RE-race.

“AW, DOUBLE DANG IT!!!  Maybe next year” I thought.

This year was a RE-RE-RE-race, and I was going to make it a good one.

Of course, it was my 6th big race in 8 weeks (plus 4 weekly series romps), so good luck if I was hoping for fresh legs…  Pfft.  Whatever.  I felt strong and I had actually recovered from the Substance Projects Long Sock CLassic a week before (a sweet 70k on my single speed).  Seriously, if I could manage 70k without gears, 40k WITH GEARS should be a snap.

Okay, maybe the word “recovered” from the race is a bit strong.  I was “mostly” recovered.

To recap:  44k…22 gears…sort-of recovered legs.  But as they say “4th time’s a charm”. This year would be MY year.  A chance for redemption, and a kick at the long course. What could go possibly go wrong…

Let me cut to the chase:  I was late, so I missed the start AGAIN, I broke 3 spokes about 6k into the race (resulting in a frame rubbing wobble for the duration), and someone stole my sunglasses.

Yeah, so that’s nice.

On the plus side, the race was true to the promised 44k of spectacular singletrack, my legs weren’t nearly as tired as I thought they’d be, the increased distance wasn’t a problem, and I didn’t think/say/feel “meh” once.

Race Report.  Singletrack Classic:  Hardwood Hills (May 25, 2017)

The race started with a pant and a gasp.

Off the start, the Singletrack Classic has a deceptively long, and genuinely sapping doubletrack climb.  Because of the length of it (almost 2k), and BECAUSE I MISSED THE START FOR THE FOURTH YEAR IN A ROW, I spent the first 10 minutes clawing my way through the course.  My lungs were tight, my legs were rubbery, and I couldn’t find a good pace.   One word:  Ugh.

Some other words:  “When does this climb end?  Oh, there’s the top.  Nope, there’s more.”  “Pant pant pant.”, and “Gasp gasp, GASP PANT GASP”.

About 15 minutes into the race, I caught Angie Emsley.  She paces me in every race that we do together (and she’s also trying the big kid distance races this year).  We rode together gently for a few minutes, until I finally felt warmed up and ready to rock.

I increased my pace.

“Tink…tink………KTLINK”.  A few minutes after leaving Angie, three spokes snapped. It only took a few minutes to tape the broken spokes to the others (so they wouldn’t coil into my cassette like they did last year at the Kingston XCM), but the spokes were beside each other and the resulting warp was giant, so I spent the rest of the race looking like I was trying to scratch my bum on my seat.

Okay, so between the late start, and taco wheel wobble dance, maybe the RE-RE-RE-Singletrack Classic  wouldn’t be a triumph.

But it was guaranteed not to be “Meh” either.

The race really is singletrack heaven, with long shots of tight and twisty singletrack that alternates between flowing and curvy, and constantly grindy and technical.  The roots are wickedly rooty; the rock gardens are unflinchingly rocky, and the log overs are awesomely log-overey.  The sections are punctuated by short doubletrack rips that were either fast and furious, or maddeningly steep and grunty.  The race course nods at some of Hardwood’s best trails, and it’s awesome at every turn.

The first lap was a heck of a lot of fun, and ended with a delicate rocky descent, a quick zip through two culverts, and back to the chalet START area.

I took a minute to recuperate, refill my belly and bottles with some Skratch, and recuperate a bit more, and then I was back in the saddle, ripping that deceptive first climb again.

During the second lap, I passed a few new racers who were finishing the short course, and giving it everything they had. It was so awesome to see so many newbies.  The distance is long enough to be a challenge, but short enough to be doable.  I remember my first races.  Man, they were tough, but so rewarding.  I hope they continue to pedal out of their comfort zone, and stomp on their boundries.  So awesome.

Lather, rinse (literally–it rained), repeat, and the race was over.

End of Race Report.

So that’s it.  After eight weeks of epic racing, I finished the Singletrack Classic fairly unscathed.  I didn’t place well, but I feel like I did well enough (for me), and for a bit of icing on the MTB cake, my lap times were only about 5-7 minutes apart from each other. Broken spokes?  Pfft.  Late start?  Pfft.  Flaming lungs and rubbery legs to start? Pfft.

Oh, except that some creep stole my sunglasses.

Yeah, seriously.  I put them down when I took off my helmet between laps, and when I went back for them, they were gone.  SONOTCOOL.  I don’t know why I’m so upset, I mean, it’s not like it was the first time I wore them (yes it was), and they were half price after all (except that they were Smiths, which meant half price was still 75 bucks).  Oh, and it’s not like I still have the case–with the other two sets of lenses–to serve as a constant reminder of a fellow racer’s craptitude.

Seriously, if you stole my sunglasses at Saturday’s race, you suck.  They were white Smith glasses with rose coloured polarized lenses, and I really liked them.  I hope you catch nose gonoherra, you big jerk.  And just so you know, I get really snotty during races so I hope you washed them really well.  I mean really snotty.

I have to say, the stealing-my-sunglasses-debacle created an unnecessary vulnerability at races.  We leave our bikes unattended.  And our helmets.  And GPS units.  And everything else.  We’re all in the same boat, playing the same game.  If people are going to start snatching unattended items at races, well that’s just not cool.

I’ve been thinking that between my bad luck, Grand Theft Sunglasses, and that giant climb, maybe next year I’ll forgo the Singletrack Classic, and finally shake off the demons that haunt me there.

Pfft.  Who am I kidding, I’ll be there, I’ll race it, and I’ll tank it (or not), and that’s awesome.

I may have missed the start of the race a few times, or had an angry bike, or whatever, but I’ve experienced it all before. For me, it’s about the experience, and I won’t experience anything when I sit at home. The only bad races are the ones not done.

So I’ll race the Singletrack Classic next year.

…I’ll just be sure to staple my sunglasses to my forehead.

Ride

 

 

PS

For a brief, shining moment, I was Jeff Shikaze!  Or maybe he was me.  The timers misread his plate number, and recorded my name with his time.  Yes, for a brief time, Colin MacLellan was 10th place in the Singletrack Classic.  Boom.  And then, when they found the error,  not-so-boom.

Did you race on Saturday?  Was the experience the same for you?  If you have something to say, comment on the blog, or send a message to: teamcolinblog@yahoo.com

I almost forgot.  A word about the title.  Hey, Pulse Racing:  every year I register as Team Colin, and every year, you refuse to list my “team” on the results.  I am a team.  A viable, bike racing team.  Does YOUR team have hats?  Hmm.

13. Single Track Classic

Single-Track-Classic-team-colin.jpg
Some Sublimely Classic Single Track (photo courtesy Ted Anderton, Apex Photography)

I’m not superstitious. I’m not even moderately-stitous, but the irony of this blog isn’t lost on me. Blog #13, and it was my worst race ever. Worst. Race. Ever.

The Single Track Classic (formerly the Single Track Challenge), presented by Pulse Racing, at Hardwood Hills is a sweet patchwork Hardwood Hill’s bestest and awesomest trails, with a bunch of fresh new trails mixed in for fun, and even a few in reverse. As in past years, the crowd was huge; the course was technical, tight, and twisty; and the competition was fierce.  Single Track Classic or Challenge?  It’s was Single Track Awesome!

I’d been looking forward to the race.  Last year, before the race, my buddy had to pee, and while he was peeing, the race started.  We tried to make it, but by the time we hit the start area, everyone was long gone.  This year was a re-race!

Or maybe not.

Team Colin was a mess.

I worked late the night before, and I got to the race with about half an hour to register and prepare. Then I discovered my rear cassette was wrecked, so I spent about 20 minutes trying to fix it (The guy at Eccleston Cycle tried to help, and the rep at the Shimano tent even tried, but no luck. Awesome people by the way.). So, after mucking around for 30 minutes, the race was about to start, and I was still in the parking lot running around in the Team Colin support vehicle, trying to prepare my tool kit, change my clothes, and eat something.

I felt like a busker in a phone booth.

And where were my damn  gloves?

In the midst of my in-the-vehicle-getting-ready-yoga, I heard the start whistle, and in one movement, I pounded the food into my mouth, changed into my kit, found my gloves, and sprinted to the start.

And then the real challenges started.

Race Report:  Single Track Classic (May 28, 2016)

The Single Track Classic started with a nice shot of double track on a gentle climb.  Usually, I can seed myself within the pack in a start like this, but by the time I got to the start line, I couldn’t even see the tail end of the pack.

I didn’t want to get stuck behind a pack riders when we hit the single track, so I pushed hard to get to them.

I was not successful.

Without even the slightest stretch or warm up, I couldn’t manage my breathing. Worse, because of the early sprint, I feel like I burned through all of my already depleted matches before even reaching the pack.

By the time the single track started, I had passed a bunch of riders, but I was still in the middle of a slow pack. I was happy for the slight break in pedaling, but as the minutes ticked, I knew I was getting further and further behind the lead. It’s not a huge problem for me to be so far back because I’m typically not fighting for a podium finish, but it always stings a bit when my legs and lungs have more to give, and I’m stuck behind a slow group.

Gotta say though, it’s great the Single Track Classic draws so a variety of riders–from the exceptionally fast, to the exceptionally recreational, and everyone in between.  It’s a testament to the awesomeness of the organizers that EVERYONE feels welcome in the race.  Nice job Pulse Racing!

And then the race got really fun.

The single track at Hardwood Hills is sublime. Awesomely fun and wickedly challenging: narrow tree gaps; rooty and rocky; and scattered with giant log overs, quick grunts, zippy descents, frequent whoops, and tight corners. The older single track was worn and fast, and the new trails were raw and gritty. It was a day of tough trails, but rideable features.

And the double track that connected the trails was either white knuckle fast, or slow and grinding.  Awesome!

Under normal circumstances, I would have had a huge cramp in my face from grinning. But today was another story. Between an angry cassette (later I discovered it was the freehub), and being so tired, every pedal stroke was a chore. Every corner was a grunt.  Every climb was a wall.

Ugh.

Sensitive readers may want to skip this next part.

With about 4k to go, I felt like couldn’t do it. My back was throbbing, and my lungs were screaming. I’m not proud about it, and I’m not happy about it, but I had to stop. So, for the first time ever in a race, I stopped pedalling, unclipped my pedals and got off my bike. I only rested for a minute or two, but those minutes were hard won throughout the race, and it was tough to see 8 or 10 riders pass through.

The race ended with a quick zip downhill to the finish line.  I finished with a whimper, a fizzle, and a sigh.

I placed 61st out of 131 riders. Not a great position, but a quick look at my abacus tells me that I passed 70 riders.  Started from the bottom…

In so many ways, the race was awesome. Great trails, great course, lots of first timers and recreational racers, lots of kids, and lots of easy banter between riders. It’s was also nice to be part of a BIG race.  Plus, Ted from Apex photography was there.  He always makes me look better than I am.

In another way—the way that pedals a bike—the race was awful. Some days riding just hurts.

After the race, my friend Mark Summers asked me what I learned from the race. I didn’t know the answer. I’m not sure I could have changed anything: I’m a teacher, and I love working with my students, so I can’t work less; I’m a dad, and sometimes I don’t sleep well because I do my chores after the kids go to bed; and I produce school plays for my students, which takes a great deal of time.

Sometimes there just isn’t time to properly prepare (physically and emotionally) for a race.

And I know that everybody else has their list too. But yesterday wasn’t the only race of the year, or the most important race of the year.  It was just a race. Sure, it was a cool experience, and it’s nice to perform well, but we all have jobs, and family, and other obligations, and…

And sometimes eat a bowl of Mini Wheats for supper at 11PM (Wait, is that just me), and go to a race the next morning utterly unprepared.

And maybe that’s the reason Dan Marshall suggested I start this blog–so I could work it all out.  Maybe that’s why he says I’m relatable. At the top of my page, it says “Team Colin is a working father who trains for XC mountain bike races.”. Sometimes, there won’t be ideal conditions, and sometimes I will be grossly unready (and sleep deprived, and late for the race, and just plain exhausted, and…) but I race bikes, and there was a race, so I raced.

Life got in the way, but life will always get in the way.

There wasn’t a resounding boom at the Single Track Classic (although, as my heart tried to scratch its way out of my chest, it sure pounded a lot)  but the worst race is the race not done, and at the end of a hectic week, I gave it my all, and that’s at least worth a little boom.

Ride.

 

Post Script:  After the race, I caught up with Scott and Shannon Bentley.  They raced single speeds in the 50k distance.  2nd and 4th place respectively.  Beasts.  Scott and Mark Summers were the first to nurture a younger, non-racing, me, into Team Colin.  It was great to catch up with my old “coach”.  I said to Scott and Shannon a dozen times yesterday (and I always say it to Mark and Leslie Summers) that it is impossible to put into words how grateful I am to them for their support and encouragement.  Boom.